Bike repair an enjoyable, educational experience

If you didn’t know it was there, you could easily miss it. With an entrance in a back alleyway and a set of stairs leading to the basement of the Urbana post office, the Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign has something charming and unique about it.

With a university as large as U of I, many students on campus commute from one end of the campus to the other using their bikes. The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign recognizes this campus necessity and aims to make bike repair an affordable and a hands-on experience for college students.

“We’re a community bike shop, and we try to teach people how to maintain and fix their own bikes,” said Luke Thompson, University alumnus with a masters in chemistry and bike shop volunteer. “We provide the tools and the space and the knowledge for how to do that.”

The shop started off as a project out of Allen Hall until it was moved into a few people’s garages of houses they were renting. Around 2006, the bike project rented the front room of what is now the entire bike shop and then slowly grew. Now with two locations, one in Urbana and one right on campus in Champaign, the project is run by volunteers, and has found enough people interested to keep the shop open between 30 and 40 hours a week.

Thompson became involved in the project as a way to fix up his own bikes.

“I have a few bikes myself, and I commute back and forth to work every day and so that’s what got me coming into here in the first place,” he said. “I have access to more tools that I didn’t have to buy myself and don’t have to wait for the bike shop to fix it for me.”

The shop provides more than just assistance to Thompson; it’s also an enjoyable part of his week.

“I started coming on a regular basis because it’s something else to do besides chemistry,” he said. “It’s something nice to do for a few hours each week.”

The shop provides assistance to people who need to fix up their bikes, but it also can provide bikes that are in need of work.

“We have bikes at various stages of disrepair, and you can come in and fix them up over 4 or 5 weeks,” said Thompson. “You can work on a bike and get taught as you’re going and get help as your putting it together, so you can learn how all of the pieces and parts go together. Then not only do you get a bike for cheap, at about half the price, but you’re learning how it works, which is our main goal, to teach everyone how to maintain their own bikes.”

Biking is a crucial part of campus for many students, providing inexpensive transportation to classes, work and back home. Kerri Gannon, sophomore in LAS, understands the importance of having a well-maintained bike.

“I ride it every single day in between classes,” she said. “If I need to go off campus, it’s a crucial thing for my day, and it’s much better than walking or taking a bus.”

Gannon visited the bike shop and took part in the fix-it-yourself experience.

“I went there semi-recently, and it was amazing,” said Gannon. “I felt like I was saving money and also learning something about my bike. I put oil on the chain, unscrewed all the bolts and literally took apart my bike.”

Kyle French, University alumnus, got a job on campus after graduation and started volunteering here.

“I started volunteering here out of necessity,” he said. “I got my bike stolen and I wanted to get another bike so I came by. I was a little bit interested in maintenance and how things go together, but I started building a bike and just came in more and more.”

French said he has learned a lot from his time at the bike shop.

“I basically built my bike that’s here now,” he said. “I put every single part together and I wouldn’t have known how to do that before. So I guess that’s where it’s valuable to me, the knowledge base of the people that are here.”

After learning so much, French decided to spend time volunteering at the bike shop.

“Now that I know how to do stuff, it’s nice to come here and give back because I’ve learned so much from the place,” said French. “It’s nice when you teach somebody something and you can tell they’re actually learning.”